CHICAGO—The Chicago Teachers Union has released a position paper on the increasing reliance on standardized test scores in measuring teacher effectiveness and school improvement as part of its “Pencils Down” campaign against high-stakes testing in schools. The paper, titled Debunking the Myths of Standardized Testing, discusses the history and advancement of the high-stakes testing movement and provides evidence against its effectiveness despite being a staple of corporate education reform.
The era of accountability through federal education policies No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top has greatly inflated standardized test taking and “test prep” curricula without evidence connecting these elements to real learning. Standardized testing grew out of the American tradition of using quantitative attempts to measure intelligence as a pretext for racist and exclusionary policies, according to the paper, and today’s tests remain discriminatory and greatly contribute to the “achievement gap” along with inequities in housing, employment, education and health care.
Recently, teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle decided to refuse to give the NWEA MAP test to their students. Chicago also has its own history of saying “no” to testing—in 2002, 12 teachers at Curie High school refused to give the CASE exam and were successful in their efforts to keep the exam out of their classrooms.
“These tests are little more than a means of controlling teachers and students, and we’ve seen what the outcomes of that are,” said CTU President Karen GJ Lewis. “When you expand this control and discrimination in education to include greater concerns about race, poverty and class, gaps widen and problems grow much worse for our society.”
Debunking the Myths of Standardized Testing has four major sections exposing shortcomings in the high-stakes testing model. The first section highlights the contributions of standardized testing to a growing achievement gap; the second section shows how test scores fail as measures of learning when high-stakes testing dominates curricula and instructional practice; and the third section discusses how high-stakes testing takes up valuable instructional time and negatively impacts student learning.
“Time and resources are also concerns,” said CTU researcher and co-author of the paper, Dr. Carol Caref. “There is a tremendous amount of time spent on teacher professional development, test prep, test analysis, computer lab use and money needed to maintain, upgrade and buy new computers solely for the tests.”
“It’s an imperfect model that’s being implemented by people who know very little about what works best in the classroom,” Lewis said. “It’s part of a business model, not a true means of evaluating the quality of education our children are receiving.”
The paper concludes that corporate interests continue to push towards a harmful test-centered public education system in order to align the outputs of public education with the needs of an unequal and highly polarized economic system. Debunking the Myths of Standardized Testing shows that an overreliance on standardized tests has led to reduced graduation rates among students of color, narrowed the curriculum in all subjects and grade levels and ill-prepared students for fulfilling careers and civic engagement. The reforms of the accountability era are harmful policies that lead to neither short-term successes nor long-term prosperity for students.